Foreign property owner register to help crackdown on money laundering

As the war in Ukraine rages, the Government has taken steps to crackdown on foreign criminals attempting to launder money through UK property ownership.

There has been much speculation about Russian oligarchs using London properties to launder money and the Government says it wants transactions to be transparent.

Now it has passed the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill which received royal assent on 15 March and became an Act.

Part of the legislation allows for the introduction of a ‘Register of Overseas Entities’ that forces foreign owners of UK property to reveal their real identities.

How does the legislation work?

The register will require them to register their properties with Companies House, to ensure criminals cannot hide behind secret shell companies.

The measures will apply to foreign owners of UK property including a company or similar legal entity that is governed by the law of a country or territory outside the UK (overseas entity).

It also applies to those who hold or control 25 per cent of the shares and therefore have a significant influence on voting.

Overseas entities will not be able to buy, sell, transfer or lease land, or create a charge against the land in the UK unless they’ve registered with Companies House.

Breathing space will be given to those who already own land in the UK and will be given six months to register their beneficial owners or managing officers, but not until the new register has been launched.

Who does it benefit?

The Government says the move will provide a level playing field with property owned by UK companies, who already need to disclose their beneficial owners to Companies House, by:

  • Imposing sanctions for non-compliance, including restrictions on registering or disposing the title of the land.
  • Applying it retrospectively to property bought since January 1999 in England and Wales and since December 2014 in Scotland.

How can overseas entities own land in the UK?

Beneficial owner(s) must register with Companies House, with the need for any information supplied to be verified. They will be given and ID number and will be required to update information annually.

To register title to land, an overseas entity will have to demonstrate it is registered and must comply with the duty to update information.

What are the penalties?

Stiff penalties such as daily fines and not being able to transact with their land will be imposed for non-compliance. This could amount to £500 per day or a prison sentence of up to five years.

For help and advice on tax and related matters please contact our team.

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